Republicans Keep House Majority While Losing Six Seats

Republicans retained control of the House of Representatives, losing a half-dozen seats to Democrats even as President Barack Obama won a second term and Senate Democrats expanded their majority.

Congressional redistricting, which Republicans controlled in 26 states, plus the retirement of Democrats who represented Republican-leaning districts helped minimize net gains by Democrats.

With 98 percent of the 435 House races called by the Associated Press, Republicans won 236 seats, including one that will be determined by a Louisiana runoff between two Republicans. They were leading in one more. Democrats were victorious in 191 contests and led in seven others. Control of the chamber requires 218 votes.

Republicans currently have 240 seats compared with 190 for Democrats and five vacancies. Two of the vacancies were held by Republicans and three by Democrats.

House Speaker John Boehner challenged Obama to find common ground with Republicans, who he said also received a mandate in yesterday’s election. Obama’s agenda includes raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans to help reduce the U.S. budget deficit, while Republicans have resisted higher taxes on anyone.

“We need to plan for a serious process, focused on substance, not on theatrics,” Boehner told reporters.

Democratic Districts

Defeated Republican incumbents such as Bob Dold and Judy Biggert in Illinois lost in Democratic-leaning districts. House Democrats who lost were defeated in Republican-leaning districts. They included Kathy Hochul in New York, Mark Critz in Pennsylvania and Larry Kissell in North Carolina.

Several freshman Republicans elected in 2010 with Tea Party movement support were defeated. They included Chip Cravaack of Minnesota, Joe Walsh of Illinois and Nan Hayworth of New York. Two others, Frank Guinta of New Hampshire and Ann Marie Buerkle of New York, both lost to Democrats whom they had unseated from the House two years ago.

In Florida, freshman Republican Allen West, who also rode the Tea Party wave to Congress in 2010, was requesting a recount. Democratic challenger Patrick Murphy led by 2,456 votes out of 318,200 cast.

Medicare Plan

Hochul’s defeat in western New York by Republican businessman Chris Collins was emblematic of House Democrats’ failure to score political gains by attacking the House Republican plan to partially privatize Medicare. She won a special 2011 election by accusing her opponent of supporting the Medicare plan to finance tax cuts for millionaires.

Democratic House candidates redoubled their attacks on the Medicare plan after its architect, House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, was picked by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney to be his running mate.

“Democrats took their best shot on that issue and they missed,” said Jack Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.

“If I am a conservative Republican, I take this as an indication that entitlement reform is not necessarily a killer issue” for Democrats to use against Republicans, Pitney said.

The election may not make compromise on tax and spending issues any easier.

Fiscal Cliff

Lawmakers may have to address the so-called fiscal cliff of tax increases and spending cuts that would start in January if Congress doesn’t act in a lame-duck session that begins later this month.

Republicans, capitalizing on their control of 26 state legislatures to redraw districts in those states, picked up three seats in North Carolina.

Kissell was defeated by Republican businessman Richard Hudson. Republicans also won seats vacated by Democrats Heath Shuler and Brad Miller. Both decided to retire after their districts were redrawn to include more Republican voters.

By controlling redistricting in so many states, Republicans “were able to use that as a firewall to Democratic gains,” said David Rohde, a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Republicans picked up a Democratic seat in Indiana due to another House retirement. Republican Jackie Walorski defeated Democrat Brendan Mullen for the seat now held by Democrat Joe Donnelly, who was elected to the Senate.

The defeat of socially moderate Republicans Biggert and Dold along with Charlie Bass in New Hampshire means that in the new Congress “Republicans will be more conservative,” Rohde said.

Democratic gains in some places were offset by losses to Republicans elsewhere. In Kentucky, Democratic Representative Ben Chandler was defeated by Republican Andy Barr in a rematch of their 2010 contest.

Barr ran ads accusing Chandler of helping Obama wage a “war on coal” by voting for climate-change legislation when Democrats controlled the House.

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